- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 3, 2017

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island is failing to comply with court-ordered terms of a settlement over the rollout of a new computer system that has caused problems for thousands of people getting food stamps and other benefits, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said on Tuesday, as it vowed to go back to court.

The ACLU said the state is violating the court order from seven months ago, when it settled a lawsuit over the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, or UHIP. The class action lawsuit, filed last year, alleged that the state failed to process food stamp applications and issue those benefits within the time frames mandated by the federal government.

Department of Human Services Director Courtney Hawkins declined to comment on specific issues raised by the ACLU on Tuesday, citing a conference scheduled Wednesday with U.S. District Judge William Smith. But she said in a written statement that the state had “made progress in improving many aspects” of the program and remained “steadfast in our efforts to ensure that Rhode Island families” have access to benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, in a timely manner.

Under the agreement, the state did not admit fault or liability but acknowledged its federal obligations to fix the computer system so the state can provide food stamps within 30 days after an eligible person applies for them and within a week for destitute families.

The agreement set deadlines for the state to improve how quickly it can process applications.

The ACLU said Tuesday that the state “has never come close to reaching those monthly benchmarks,” which included showing that 96 percent of food stamp applications were issued in a timely way by August. It said the state had acknowledged that it is not even able to provide a monthly report showing whether the agency is complying with the terms of the settlement. The group said that Hawkins had blamed programming issues on the part of Deloitte, the private contractor responsible for the system.

“While we recognize the state’s frustration with its vendor, frustration does not put food on the table of hungry families,” ACLU attorney Lynette Labinger said.

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